Jury's out on impact of wreck on marine life

The Whitsunday Magic in Pioneer Bay.
The Whitsunday Magic in Pioneer Bay. Peter Carruthers

LOVE it or hate it, the wreck of the Whitsunday Magic in Pioneer Bay is a curiosity many can't ignore; but wildlife advocates are warning of the detrimental effects of increased visitors to the wreck.

The steel three-masted schooner sank while moored at a Shute Harbour jetty in 2011. It was re-floated and moored in Pioneer Bay before getting into trouble again during severe storms, and became stuck in the mud in early 2013.

The wreck has significantly increased recreational boat traffic to the west of Pigeon Island in Pioneer bay and tourist operators frequent that part of the bay multiple times a day on jet-skis, in a jet boat and an amphibious duck.

Reef Catchments coast and biodiversity officer Olivia Brodhurst has identified Cannonvale Beach as a nesting site for the "vulnerable” listed flatback turtle and acknowledged an increase in water craft in the vicinity could affect marine life.

"(Our) main messages for users of the area now would be to avoid going over the seagrass beds where turtles and dugong are feeding. Go slow in nearby waters and if you see a stranded or injured animal, including a turtle floating for an extended time, call the RSPCA,” she said.

Ms Brodhurst said 15% of turtles stranded in Queensland were related to boat strike and reported dugong trails had recently been seen in the seagrass beds near Pigeon Island and the mammals were being monitored.

Libby Edge, from Eco Barge, said information on turtle numbers around the Whitsundays was limited due to the lack of studies into the animals.

However, she said Pioneer Bay was a "heavy use” area for turtles and dugong feeding on the seagrass.

"But we have only had a few boat strikes in the area,” she said.

A Transport and Main Roads spokesperson said the wreck "does not pose an imminent threat to the environment”.

Pioneer Jetboat director Broden Warne said since he has been operating tours in Pioneer Bay there had "definitely” not been a decrease in turtle numbers.

"Dugong are naturally shy creatures (but) we do see them in Pioneer Bay,” he said.

"Some days we will see over 50 turtles in half an hour. We don't want to do anything to hurt the seagrass, why would we?”

Whitsunday Regional councillor Jan Clifford has heard the full gamut of opinion about the Whitsunday Magic.

Cr Clifford said it was only a matter of time before the wreck deteriorated to a point that forced its removal.

At the same time she described it as a "majestic” part of the Whitsundays.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said the wreck of the Magic fell outside the marine park and therefore didn't come under its jurisdiction.

"(The) GBRMPA does not have any direct habitat use studies in this specific area; however, we would encourage all vessel operators in shallow water to 'look out for those below',” a GBRMPA statement read.

The GBRMPA advised boat and jet-ski users of the area around the wreck they could minimise their impact by:

Being alert and watching for turtles and dugongs at all times

Reducing vessel speed to minimise the risk of collision in areas where turtles and dugongs have been sighted

In addition both the GBRMPA and Reef Catchments urged boaties to use the Eye On the Reef app to report wildlife sightings.

Topics:  shipwreck whitsunday magic

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